Ward Keeler: Uniform Subtle Bodily Sensations
Mon, October 29, 2012 • 12:00 PM • SAC 5.118
"Uniform Subtle Bodily Sensations: A Ten-Day Meditation Course in Burma's Shan Hills"
A talk by Ward Keeler, Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
Rather than write an academic account of meditation as the important social phenomenon that it has become in contemporary Burma – a worthwhile project I hope to undertake eventually – I wanted in this piece to provide readers with some insight into what the experience is actually like. Having undergone a course in the Shan Hills of Burma, I found it extremely challenging and distressing. As soon as it was over, I wrote it up in a white heat, trying to mirror in the meandering of my prose the meandering of my mind as I sat on the floor with my eyes closed for ten and a half hours a day for ten days. Weaving together personal memories, reflections on Buddhist Burmese understandings of social relations, and recent Burmese political developments, I tried to use an informal, deeply felt, yet still articulate voice in order to trace out junctures we all come upon, and choices we all have to make, in the course of our lives.
Ward Keeler is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. A specialist in Southeast Asia, the first part of his career was based on long-term fieldwork on the arts, language, and culture in Java and Bali (Indonesia). More recently, he has been doing research in Burma, looking at the performing arts and music, gender, and religious practices. He lived in monasteries in Mandalay from August 2011 to July 2012, complementing earlier research on the transgendered, who live at the lower margins of mainstream society, with work on monks, who live at the top of Burmese society’s prestige hierarchy. In April, he embarked upon a ten-day meditation retreat, in an effort to learn what the great interest in meditation in contemporary Burma tells us about Burmese understandings of social relations and individual desires.
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